Topics: Israel conflict;

07:55AM AEDT
17 October 2023

Simon Birmingham: We continue to see a deeply troubling situation unfolding in the Middle East. We should never forget the cause of these troubles, and the cause of the enormous humanitarian challenges that are unfolding. That is that Hamas is the cause of the loss of life in the Middle East. Hamas initiated these tragic terrorist attacks against Israel. Hamas killed babies, women, children, grandparents and others. Hamas provoked the types of actions that are legitimate self-defence by Israel to seek to remove from a position of power or authority Hamas as an agent of influence and an agent of terrorism within its region and along the Israeli border. Of course, we wish to see the Rafah border crossing opened in a way that enables safe passage of Australians through that border crossing and in a way that enables humanitarian assistance to pass through that border crossing. We also critically wish to see a situation where we can see all Australians who wish to safely exit Israel, given the support to do so. And now the government has had further repatriation flights and they are very welcome. There seems to be an indication that the flow of repatriation flights is coming to an end from the government. Labor talked a big game in opposition about getting Australian citizens home safely when they couldn’t do so by commercial means. And so, if the repatriation flights are coming to an end, the government needs to be clear how many Australian citizens remain in Israel who have registered and requested to leave Israel. Are they leaving anybody behind? What are the circumstances that would see the government put on further repatriation flights into the future? These are questions that the government needs to answer. It needs to answer to be consistent with the type of pre-election rhetoric that it put in place in relation to how it would approach the challenges of safely repatriating Australians from troubled spots or difficult circumstances around the world.

Journalist: Does the government need to be doing more? Considering what we’ve just heard, that it’s almost double the amount of Australians that are in Gaza. Do they need to be doing more work to get those people out of that troubled territory?

Simon Birmingham: The situation for Australians in Gaza is deeply troubling and also deeply challenging. Clearly, Australian citizens in Gaza will only be able to safely leave if they have an opportunity to do so, likely through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. And so we need rightly to be pursuing opening of that crossing for the passage of international citizens like Australians with Egypt, with other parties and countries around the world who have similar citizens in similar circumstance chances. That is the work the government should be doing and ensuring it is engaging with Egypt as well as with Israel as well as with other Middle East nations and they have the opposition’s full support to do so to help to secure that safe exit of Australians.

Journalist: There’s been some criticism of a bit of the rhetoric that is going on around the Israeli conflict within Australian politics here in that potentially there’s a lack of bipartisanship on the issue with some of the rhetoric of Peter Dutton. Is he politicising this conflict?

Simon Birmingham: No. We are being absolutely clear in relation to the position that we have around Israel’s absolute and inherent right to defend itself and defending itself, to take actions to ensure that Hamas is no longer in the future, in a position to launch the types of terrorist attacks against Israel that we saw occur just a week or so ago.

Journalist: Mr. Birmingham, is your personal concern for the Aussies abroad growing day by day, or is this something that we’re just going to have to deal with in terms of getting these Aussies home?

Simon Birmingham: These are deeply and troubling times, and that is a concern for all those innocent lives who are affected. Nobody wants to see more children die. Nobody wants to see more innocent lives lost. Nobody wants to see Australians in such challenging and difficult circumstances in Gaza or in Israel who can’t get out. That’s why every effort should be made to ensure there are enough seats on enough flights for those Australians to get out of Israel. Every effort should be made to ensure that Australians can pass safely from Gaza into Egypt, and from there, be able to safely leave the region, and the government needs to continue to do that. Our hearts go out to all of those who are affected by this tragedy, including the families of Australians who find themselves still stranded, still in difficult circumstances and who need the support to leave. Thanks, guys.